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South African Teams Struggle to Reach Buried Workers at Mine

  • Associated Press

Security guards keep watch at the entrance of the Lily mine, which is owned by Vantage Goldfields, near Barberton, east of Johannesburg, Feb. 5, 2016.

Security guards keep watch at the entrance of the Lily mine, which is owned by Vantage Goldfields, near Barberton, east of Johannesburg, Feb. 5, 2016.

Searchers at a South African mine on Wednesday struggled to reach three missing workers in a mobile office container that was buried under thousands of tons of rock last week.

There were "some signs of life'' during rescue operations on Tuesday at the Lily gold mine near Barberton town, Australia-based Vantage Goldfields said in a reference to tapping sounds apparently coming from the container. Those sounds were not heard on Wednesday, said the company, which runs the mine.

Rescue teams were about 40 feet (12 meters) from the steel container and time was running out for anyone to be rescued alive after about five days of continuous work to remove rock and other debris covering the mobile office, Vantage Goldfields said in a statement.

The company said rescue efforts had entered what it called the "red zone,'' a period "when it becomes physiologically unlikely that survivors would be able to survive without adequate oxygen, water and other life-sustaining elements.''

An underground pillar caved in at the mine Friday, creating a sinkhole that swallowed the container, which had been above ground. All 87 miners who were underground during the collapse were rescued.

The mine operator identified the missing workers as Solomon Nyarenda, Pretty Mabuza and Yvonne Mnisi.

Family members of the missing workers were staying at the mine, awaiting news of the search. Mine operations have been suspended.

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